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Alumna Profile: Shannon Webb‑Campbell

Posted by Shannon Webb-Campbell on August 18, 2014 in Alumni & Friends

Initially, I was very apprehensive to call myself a poet. Like anything, giving name to something comes with series of internal questions. Am I poet enough? I have been writing poems in one form or another for several years, but never had the nerve to call myself a poet.

It wasn’t until September 2012, during the start of my MFA in creative writing at University of British Columbia’s Optional-Residency program, I found myself in Susan Musgrave’s workshop, and answered poetry’s wild call.

I’ve recently won the inaugural OUT in Print Literary Award 2014. Organized by Egale Canada Human Rights Trust, the award provides “financial and publishing support to an emerging queer and/or trans-spectrum, female-identified writer in Canada.”

As winner, my debut poetry collection, Tell Me Medicine Woman, Who Do I Belong To? will be published by Breakwater Books, with design support from by Zab Design and Typography. I will also receive $3,500 and a Toronto book launch, to be scheduled for February.

Several of the poems “Harvest Your Heart, and “I’ve Been Sleeping Lifetimes Deep,” appear in Riddle Fence, “On The Sidewalk,” a tribute to Raymond Taavel in Plenitude Magazine, and make up a suite of poems, “Modern Astronomy,” that have been shortlisted for Writers Federation of Nova Scotia’s Atlantic Writing Competition Poetry Prize 2014.

Truth is the fabric of poetry. You can't lie to your readers in a poem. They'll know. In some ways, poetry is the purest form of non-fiction. We all struggle enough as humans being alive, and we take comfort in what we read. Poems are place to be held.

In terms of the lyric and the language, much like criticism, poetry is conversation. In my experience, I've found poetry to be a little more forward thinking than criticism, certainly more renegade than academia. There is more room, no rules.

Poetry is my true love, but I’ve spent the past decade as a journalist, fiction writer and narrative-non fiction writer, contributing “Love Letters from Paris,” two missives in the forthcoming collection featuring love letters by Canadian poets, Love Where The Nights Are Twice As Long (Goose Lane Editions, 2015), “Curtsey To Handsome Butches, Boys, and Trans Guys,” a flirtatious homage to femme visibility in Out Proud: Stories of Courage, Pride, and Social Justice (Breakwater Books, 2014), “Though I Dress In Armour, I Was Not Born To Fight,” a first person account of premature birth, trauma, and healing in MESS: The Hospital Anthology (Tightrope Books, 2014).

Previously published work, mostly written during my undergraduate degree in English Literature and Journalism studies at Dalhousie University, include: “A Fragmented Manifesto,” a call to arms in GULCH: An Assemblage of Poetry and Prose (Tightrope Books, 2009), “Think Pink,” a portrait of girlhood and masturbation in She’s Shameless: Women Write About Growing Up, Rocking Out and Fighting Back (Tightrope Books, 2009), and “Newfoundlesbian,” a coming of age story, which won second place winner of Room Magazine’s creative non-fiction contest in 2008.

In addition to my work as a writer and poet, I am this year’s Canadian Women in Literary Arts critic in residence 2014. As a freelance arts journalist and book review for Quill and Quire, The National Post, Telegraph Journal, Room Magazine and The Coast, I engage with the critical work of Canadian women writers, especially poets, and contemporary fiction writers who identify as queer, Indigenous, and write outside the lines. My role as CWILA critic-in-residence is a natural extension of my journalism career.

I am most drawn to reviewing poetry because of its invitation for embodiment, an exchange between head and heart. Poetry is often overlooked in arts sections, and has a small seat even in national literary magazines. Part of my critical work is to pay witness, to make sure poetry still has a place at the table, a voice amongst the cacophony of fiction and non-fiction. Poetry is where I find myself home.

Within the framework of CWILA’s CiR program, I am also working on a CWILA Manifesto, which launches in September. In terms of audience, I attempt to reach and engage as many readers as possible – age, gender, nationality, geographical location and occupation are all variables. My role as critic-in-residence is to engage newspaper, magazine and online readers with work that occupies the current cultural climate. It’s my responsibility as critic, writer and poet to remain honest, aware and inclusive.